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Saving Europe’s Lost Generation of Workers

MILAN – More and more European young people are beginning to think just like Paul Nizan’s character Antoine Bloyé, who said, “When I was twenty, I would not call that the best time in my life.” The global financial crisis has hit them hard. The slow recovery from the recession may be even worse. Young people who entered the labor market through the backdoor of temporary contracts are now the first to be forced out as their contracts expire.

For more than a decade, temporary employment has been the engine of job creation in Europe. Now, unsurprisingly, these temporary workers form the major pool where jobs are being destroyed.

Since the beginning of the recession, in the third quarter of 2008, the European Union has lost five million jobs among those under 40 years old. Almost 90 per cent of total job losses have been concentrated in this age bracket. Those who are now leaving school and entering the job market run the risk of becoming a lost generation, like their Japanese cohorts who began their working lives at the beginning of Japan’s downturn in the 1990’s.

Due to high economic uncertainty, firms are offering only fixed-term contracts. That is exactly what happened in Sweden during its financial crisis in the 1990’s, when the share of temporary workers in total employment increased from 10% to 16%, despite massive layoffs from fixed-term contracts.